Donna’s On Rampart’s Music License Pulled By City

The new reincarnation of Donna’s Bar & Grill (renamed by new owners as Donna’s on Rampart) lost its license to present live music Monday.

Donna Poniatowski and her husband Charlie Sims closed the property in August. Dr. Eugene Oppman, owner and developer of the Carver Theater on Orleans Avenue, bought the business with the assistance of Morris Kahn, a local tax-credit incentive specialist. The building that Donna’s (the business) occupies at 800 North Rampart, is owned by the Cahn family (they also own the building that used to house the Funky Butt, and the property on Frenchmen where the club Maison is currently located).

Donnas Bar and Grill

Donna and Charlie at Donna's Bar & Grill

Morris Kahn, who represents Oppman, says that he will file a lawsuit within the next two weeks in an attempt to reinstate the license. Kahn told OffBeat that the license he received from the city was legal, but the Board of Zoning Adjustments decided to remove the live entertainment license because they judged that the City had improperly granted the license because the original business “Donna’s” had been closed more than six months, and therefore the live entertainment license was no longer grandfathered in.

“This is nothing more than an attack on the New Orleans culture in our neighborhood, “ said Kahn. “There are a lot of  ‘code words’ being used by people who don’t want ‘those people’ in their neighborhood. To say the least, I’m very disappointed at the way this has turned out.”

Leo Watermeier, who lives on North Rampart Street, said “Neighbors, including myself,  testified that the new incarnation of Donna’s created major disturbances with its overly-amplified music, open front doors, and outside crowd—whereas the original Donna’s had been a good neighbor. I testified that not once in 17 years had I ever heard Donna’s music in my house or complained to Donna, whereas every night I was being disturbed by the new Donna’s. We had also found that the new owners were unresponsive to our concerns.” Watermeier also said he could personally support “some form of live entertainment at Donna’s, but only under different ownership.”

Kahn alleges that he spoke with the neighbors in the vicinity of Donna’s when he applied for the license.

Representatives of VCPORA and French Quarter Citizens were in the audience but did not testify because their groups had not taken a stand on the issue.

The Funky Butt and Donna’s were the last two live music venues on North Rampart. The Funky Butt closed just prior to Katrina as the business operators at that time (“Big Sam” Williams and his wife) could not afford to make costly repairs to the building. They were actively looking to move the Funky Butt to Frenchmen Street, but Katrina ended that venture and the Funky Butt closed. A new operator attempted to reopen the location on North Rampart as a live music venue but was unable to obtain a live music permit. Residents on the North Rampart side of the French Quarter have long been opposed to permitting any live music on the street, as they fear that North Rampart could become another Frenchmen Street, or even another Bourbon Street, in terms of noise and an element of street traffic they don’t want on North Rampart.

North Rampart Street: Lots of property for sale and vacant.

Donna’s has 30 days to file an appeal in Civil District Court, and Kahn vowed that he will assemble a wide group of supporters for live music poerformances on North Rampart.

As a music supporter, I have always thought that it was a crime not to allow live music on North Rampart. It edges Armstrong Park and Congo Square. It’s an ideal place for an entertainment and cultural district. It would create walking traffic on North Rampart—which is, after all, a four-lane commercial avenue—that would certainly deter crime, and provide more of a focus for Armstrong Park.

The residents who live on the Rampart side of the Quarter do have a point, however, in that there’s a real problem with enforcement of noise ordinances by the city. My contention is that if North Rampart were designated as a cultural and music district, the city and the group who oversee the district would have more control over noise and architectural preservation in this area. In my mind, the pros of creating a North Rampart entertainment district with music far outweigh the cons.

What’s better for the city: a street where there’s no traffic, lots of crime, a derelict park, no music and few retail outlets just so a few people won’t have their sleep disturbed? Or a vibrant cultural and entertainment district that could—with the proper enforcement and development—become another jewel of the city? To me, it’s a no-brainer.

  • Rossvegas

    I do understand the concerns of the neighbors, but from an outsider’s perspective, Rampart Street is almost as familiar (at least in name) to tourists as Bourbon. You’re absolutely right about regenerating that area as a “cultural hub”, and it would make Armstrong Park and Congo Square a LOT more welcoming. (I visit NOLA frequently, and I’ve always been warned to stay away from Armstrong Park. How sad is THAT?) I don’t like the idea of “Disney-fying” the street…but just imagine if it could become NOLA’s version of Memphis’s Beale Street? Make it family-friendly, safe, secure and the entire area will benefit….

  • Rossvegas

    I do understand the concerns of the neighbors, but from an outsider’s perspective, Rampart Street is almost as familiar (at least in name) to tourists as Bourbon. You’re absolutely right about regenerating that area as a “cultural hub”, and it would make Armstrong Park and Congo Square a LOT more welcoming. (I visit NOLA frequently, and I’ve always been warned to stay away from Armstrong Park. How sad is THAT?) I don’t like the idea of “Disney-fying” the street…but just imagine if it could become NOLA’s version of Memphis’s Beale Street? Make it family-friendly, safe, secure and the entire area will benefit….

  • Free Market

    The New Orleans Corruption Problem stops economic growth. If the City Officials weren’t corrupt and wanting kickbacks for licenses and permits to be approved there would be more businesses opening up in New Orleans (and more jobs, and more money in the economy). The city corruption that is preventing Donna’s from doing business is hurting the whole city.

  • Janramsey

    I agree there’s corruption–and a lot of stupidity (see response to my blog from last week). But I think the major problem is there are a group of people who live and own property there who don’t want entertainment on Rampart Street. They’ve got a very strong lobby and there aren’t enough people to make a cultural district happen. BTW, North Rampart Street receives money under the Louisiana’s “Main Street” program. They’ve hired an executive director, painted many of the vacant properties there (at least they “look” better) and there are “art markets” there occasionally. But it sure has done nothing to put a commercial street back into commerce, IMHO.

  • Buckley D. Wineholt

    What a load of crap. As hard as it is to survive as a musician or music club operator, the last thing these folks need is the bass-ackwards City of New Orleans government impeding their ability to operate a business, serve the community & enrich the city’s culture & coffers. Whatta load of crap!

  • KnowacrookIsee1

    The truth is something that Morris Kahn and his friends would never “NO”! The original “Donna’s” was a great place, and Donna/Charlie were incredible people. They were supported because people liked what they stood for, and their passion for the music. It was indeed a sad day when they closed due to an extremely terrible building, and a lack of support from the “locals”. We wish they could have continued for years! Morris and his cronies are not the care givers they would like people to think. They knew the restrictions on the Permit, and chose to ignore them. They thought as many do in the “business” world of New Orleans that they could do as they wished. Yes, they did talk to the neighbors about re-opening, and made numerous promises that they did not try to live up to in order to work the neighborhood. Much like the Carver Theater project they have put no money into the business or building. Look at how much has been done to the Carver to understand these people do not like to use their own money. Morris was also involved in the Orphium Theater project as well. These are not “good keepers of New Orleans traditions. They lost their permit because they did not open in time or in the right way. These individuals are the ones that killed music on North Rampart not the neighbors.

  • Excelsior

    What about setting up a series of live music venues in Armstrong Park that could be leased to music vendors by the city? The music could be aimed away from Rampart toward the park. The park is empty at night. This would get people using the park at night and enjoying music at the same time.

  • justiceserved

    KARMA is a bitch, Morris Kahn.

  • truthwillout

    That’s absolute b.s.! Leo Watermeier was, and is, the problem. He prefers gay bars to brass bands, and is the perennial roadblock to live music on Rampart.

  • KnowacrookIsee1

    North Rampart Street uses it’s “Main Street” funds to help stimulate the revival of North Rampart Street. They do not help to paint vacant properties, they help new businesses freshen their fascades to draw attention. There are several businesses moving on to the street, and the scape is looking that much better. The 2 buildings you showed in your article, have in fact sold months ago and are being rehabbed! The street is moving forward, and doesn’t need corrupt businessmen like Morris messing with the positive progress. It is easy for people who do not live in areas like this or on Frenchmen St. to call for change. They don’t live there, it is the “not in my Backyard, but yours is ok” mentality. South Rampart is the perfect place for this kind of growth that is being proposed, it is after all the actual “cultural” part of music on Rampart. Please know what you are talking about before you call to arms!!!!!!!!!

  • KnowacrookIsee1

    And, please watch the BZA meeting, to learn what actually took place. You do not have to believe me, but judge for yourself! Morris and his cronies, put on No defense, and didn’t have one to tell. They were simply trying to use “Donna’s” name to make a buck for themselves, and Donna/Charlie were not happy about it. Bad landlords have kept this street down too long! That is a big reason we lost Donna’s. But now we have an African Restaurant/Mardi Gras Indian Museum going in, and the culture is alive. Google Morris Kahn, and you can find out just what kind of person he really is. We need a great mix of culture everywhere in the city, and the more MUSIC the better. Just not another shady business….

  • tooloud

    Having read many of the comments here, I am surprised that no one has addressed the part of the article about the change in volume of the music/crowd since the new owners took over. I am a full time jazz musician in New Orleans, and I used to play every week at Donna’s a few years ago. While it sounds as if there are some crooked politics going on, I do think it should not be ignored that it seems as though the old Donna’s was a much easier pill to swallow for the community then the new, louder, amplified Donna’s. Having lived close enough to hear Bourbon St for years, and currently working 5 nights a week on Frenchmen St, I will attest to the fact that there is a MAJOR difference in a neighbourhood between acoustic (or respectfully amplified) music, and super amplified, loud music. It is my opinion that the leeway given to clubs in regards to noise is one of the most culturally destructive facets of our city. Try playing acoustice jazz at Fritzels on Bourbon while the 3 neighbouring techno clubs are competing for loudest, most obnoxious music in the history of time.

  • KnowacrookIsee1

    I very much like your comments, and they are very true. The neighbors were promised a bar just like “Donna’s”, and got a plugged in loud club. Having played there, you know it is a very small house with no need to play anything but accoustic. And, in fact Morris promised as much. (one of the many promises he broke) But in all honesty, there was nothing that the neighbors could have done about the noise, had they opened the club in time. The BZA made their ruling on the information provide by both parties, including what little testimony the new “Donna’s” gave. The importance of being a good neighbor is being well overlooked. Thanks for your comments.

  • http://lorddavidtruth.blogspot.com Lorddavid

    Like the problems experienced by the Eris Parade, it sounds like they brought this on themselves, albeit heavy handed. As one who frequented the original Donna’s Bar & Grill many, many times, I must agree that it never got that loud outside, or even inside. I’ve been there at nearly 4am, when Donna would close the doors & horn players from all over town would start opening their cases and playing along, merging the entire room with whatever stage performance was going on.

    Stepping back outside, it was hard to tell what went on behind those doors.

    The secret world of these clubs is part of their charm, the feeling that you’ve entered some temporal heaven’s gate, and the experience that goes along with it.

    Perhaps the new sense of entitlement, the need to blast taped music, Razzo style, out open doors, or amplify live music until it rattles neighborhood walls, is best left to those tinted window cars that roll through neighborhoods with deafening woofers, signaling the bad taste & worse hearing of those inside.

    Surely, this is not the future of the New Orleans live jazz & brass band scene. Moreover, it gives a false credence to the City’s hard line on art, music, and let’s face it, everything good about New Orleans.

    Were the new owners at this place as concerned about their neighborhood & the future of music on Rampart Street as they claim, rather than pushing their own agenda of decibel driven club status, perhaps we’d find that middle ground where our culture can flourish as what it is; the heart & soul of the City of New Orleans.

  • http://lorddavidtruth.blogspot.com Lorddavid

    “My contention is that if North Rampart were designated as a cultural and music district, the city and the group who oversee the district would have more control over noise and architectural preservation in this area.”

    This is the best idea I’ve heard in a long, long time.
    Thanks, Ms Ramsey, for bringing it all together; The City, the Music & an environment that showcases our favorite culture in a manner worthy of New Orleans legendary musical history.

    Bravo.

  • Jazzedit

    This is one of the points. I am a french trumpet player. I am always amazed by the horrible noise on Bourbon. This noise would be forbidden in any european country. Sometimes you can’t even hear what you are blowing. Rampart St deserves more attention. Armstrong Park is just a big failure, not even interesting for tourists. It should be re-thought in all its aspects in a global local project: how to keep the Eagle Saloon, with music, how to put some life in this terrible park, how to revive Rampart Street by forbidding heavy noise, and shutting doors, etc. How to help Tremé and other areas… a lot of work has to be done. New political ideas are needed, new people, uncorrupted, organized, knowing about history and culture, not forgetting business and tourism.
    Europeans love New Orleans but really we cannot understand what goes on behind the façade.
    All the best, dan

  • CSConradEsq

    Live music doesn’t have to be overly loud. Look at Three Muses and the Spotted Cat — two of the best music venues on Frenchmen Street, and both are primarily acoustic. There’s no reason that the city can’t impose a content-neutral maximum decibel level outside the clubs, AND have live music in the same area.

  • Greg Rhoades

    Jan,

    Please let me know when you gather the contigency. I’m a huge supporter of live music on Rampart Street and will do whatever I can to help, especially with establishing a cultural/music district (which is a daunting task).

    In fact, ten years ago, I visited New Orleans to tour Loyola. Before I even saw Loyola, I was taken to the Funky Butt upon my late-night arrival. My mind was blown and immediately set to living in Nola, I didn’t need to see the school. The Butt unknowingly set me on the path to become the writer/music photographer I am today.

    Let’s make something happen!

    -Greg Rhoades
    Music Editor, NewOrleans.com
    photo@504otos.com

  • Hoodoonola

    Where the area to become a music and cultural district, it would become more economically viable and property values would increase and then the grouches could sell and move on to quieter environs … problem solved!

  • Normafay2530

    I’ve worked in tourism for over 20 years and have always been instructed to tell guests to avoid Rampart St. Now with new clubs and entertainment and the reopening Armstrong Park (someday) the area looks good and I have always felt safe when more people were around. This is crazy for an established club not to be able to have live music. Why, also, does that guy say “under new ownership”?? He must have a big problem with the owners or representatives. I was there this weekend and it was awesome. They could not open the doors because of the laws and were constantly checking the noise levels. They seem to be trying very hard to bring good music and still keep within guidelines. What are the guidelines anyway?

  • Normafay2530

    I’ve worked in tourism for over 20 years and have always been instructed to tell guests to avoid Rampart St. Now with new clubs and entertainment and the reopening Armstrong Park (someday) the area looks good and I have always felt safe when more people were around. This is crazy for an established club not to be able to have live music. Why, also, does that guy say “under new ownership”?? He must have a big problem with the owners or representatives. I was there this weekend and it was awesome. They could not open the doors because of the laws and were constantly checking the noise levels. They seem to be trying very hard to bring good music and still keep within guidelines. What are the guidelines anyway?

  • Normafay2530

    In regards to the loud amplified music, no a brass band does not need any sound system. If there is a band with an organ, guitar, or a bass guitar, they need to plug into something. So just keep the levels down! There was an indian band there Sunday night and they had two guitars both in the sound system.
    I guess if you only have brass, it is not an issue.
    The sound can be kept down. I work several events in the city and we can keep it down within the law by monitoring it and having cooperative bands.

  • Culture is not business

    I haven’t been to back Beale Street since they gentrified it. Donna’s was the real deal. Raw and uncut. Lets hope they keep it that way.

  • Spirit of Music

    Leo can suck a dick

  • Blorger

    This thing of one or two individuals in any given neighborhood having as much sway as this Watermeier fellow does is near the top of the list of the most significant things that need to change in Post-K New Orleans. Though these individuals herald themselves as bringers of the “New” New Orleans, they are nothing more than emblems of the past and purveyors of regression using zoning and noise as weapons to bludgeon anyone who does not meet a specific and hard-line set of ambiguous and whimsical criteria. How it is that these mini-dictatorships have cropped up so virulently across the city in Post-K New Orleans is anyone’s guess, but it’s time to pierce the veil of these tattle-taleing cowards, organize and go after them to expose them for the corrupt, self-serving and agendized fools that they are. Mr. Watermeier’s actions are regressive, promote blight and crime and the tactics used stand as the principal foe to our city’s speedy recovery. He purports to help, but this action hurts our city. It’s only fair to say that Watermeier and his cronies are anti-New Orleans and anti-recovery. It’s time to stop these people from hurting our city further. Write, oppose and protest anyone like Mr. Watermeier who stands in the way of this city’s recovery.

  • Blorger

    Yes, all music should by rights be low-volume and tailor-made for wine-sipping yuppies with money, for they are the only people who matter & their tastes should forge the future path for the cultural economy of the City of New Orleans. It’s exactly this kind of mentality that is dead wrong & precludes the death of most of the great things this city has offered the world. Conveniencing the noise-averse, most of whom moved to the city AFTER the existence of these clubs and with full knowledge of their presence, is a recipe for decline and eventual death–as it has been in most American cities other than New Orleans (thankfully). CSConradEsq’s suggestion is the cry of the culture colonist (and you may be from here, don’t know, but it still is as described)–those who soak up New Orleans as a wonderful place to view and enjoy from the anthropologist’s outside perspective, but when noise and other so-called “inconveniences” encroach on the values they have brought with them from the Midwest or the Northeast or the West Coast or some or other generic somewhere–the same noise that helps create that which they purport to enjoy–they seek to impose those values (mostly suburban) onto the city, aiding in its cultural erosion in the guise of “good intentions” to the tune of a figurative football field a day. Your “good intentions” are the engine of cultural destruction. The job of the Culture Colonist is to learn, adapt and integrate into the culture as it exists when you arrive in New Orleans, and that can and will be loud sometimes. Sadly this is not how the Culture Colonist approaches life here: this is a lesson for the Culture Colonist to learn, not the other way around. Sadly, they instead come with tales of salvation from without that take the form of praise for “Three Muses” and “Spotted Cat,” hailing them for conveniencing slight and temporary discomfort to the ear drum. Forgive them, for they know not what they do…..just don’t let ‘em!!

  • Original Donna’s Supporter

    The original owners, Donna and Charlie Sims, do not approve of the current incarnation of the club. It should be closed or the name should be changed entirely. No one consulted Donna nor Charlie. It’s an insult to them to reopen the club under that name without their blessing.

  • kibbles

    as cool as you think it’d be to have another Frenchmen on somebody else’s street (as do I), the reality is noise. people need to sleep, and have the right to not have neighbors make that difficult.

    the problem is amplification. it’s too easy to over do it and the city doesn’t enforce the law, leaving home owners no way but for this to combat the noise.

    bar owners need to get serious about respecting others, being a good neighbor, and turning it down.

    even jazz.

  • kibbles

    agreed. not many know it but the old jazz clubs were in the CBD. there are a few buildings left but not much…lost one last year and now it’s likely to become yet another parking lot.

    Cahn Enterprises is a crap landlord, which is exactly why Donna left — he wanted them, as renters, to pay for the aging building’s maintenance. BS. they split.

    http://offbeat.com/2010/08/20/donna’s-bar-grill-closes/

  • kibbles

    it does not matter what sort of music one prefers. or ones sexual orientation. strange that you think otherwise. grow up, child.

    noise is noise. over amplification of even jazz creates noise to those in their homes. Watermeier supported the original Donna’s.

    people love to talk about the music history here. guess what? they didn’t have amps for decades. time to go acoustic?

  • kibbles

    lay off the crack pipe. liking music that doesn’t make you deaf doesnt make you a guppy, only smart. I like three muses and that doest make me “money”.

    clearly, young hipster, you don’t have to sleep in tbe area amd rise early for work so you can put money in the state and city’s coffers. we do.

    enjoy your vacation, even if your visit is an extended one.

  • kibbles

    wrong. you still misunderstand the problem.

    the French quarter has always been a residential neighborhood, a place for full-time residents to live, work, and play. it had 40,000 full-time residents in the mid 20th century. now it has 4,000.

    your suggestion to drive up prices and drive out working residents leaves the quarter to over-priced condos, owned by out of state wealth refugees. they do not live here, work here. they are not eyeballs on the street. they then rent to vacationers through out the year…. then guess what you have? grownup Disneyland.

    a town for tourists is not what us working residents want. get it?

  • kibbles

    why would I oppose people who simply want to relax and sleep in their own homes? and how can he be labeled a coward when he testifies with his real name, while you are “Blorger”?

    no, demonizing working residents is not the answer. going back to our non-amplified historic roots is the answer. bars don’t trump homes. cuz at the end of the nite everybody leaves a bar. that’s not an option when it’s your home. homes were here first — centuries before amplified bars.

    btw, where do you sleep at nite? very curious.

  • Guest

    When I look at Rampart street, I see so much potential. Not for another Bourbon street, because lets be honest, Bourbon street has nothing to do with real New Orleans culture. Bourbon street is just a tourist trap that goes out of its way to be as outrageous as it can be to attract the most tourist. The idea of having another Bourbon street in another part of the city scares most locals into overreacting to any plan that would bring business to Rampart street. I was born and raised in New Orleans but had to move away to New York for work. I am now apart of a development company and have convinced them that developing a part of New Orleans would be good business for us and a great help to NOLA. the plan was to buy 5 abandoned buildings on Rampart and renovate them and create everything from a gym, restaurant, commercial condos and residential ones as well. also their was a plan in the works with the Armstrong park administration to coordinate events that would bring business and traffic to the area, such as live music, a large Christmas tree lighting, free concerts on the weekend. No one really walks down Rampart street these days because there is no reason to do so and the neighbors of the area like it that way. Between Armstrong park and Rampart street, we would be creating the equivalent of Union Square here in New York. but our proposal was fought tooth and nail by the residents even after asking them for regulations that would allow us to move forward, such as requiring a set time that any live music be finished and requiring anyone doing business any type of business in the area to agree to a set of rules that would be created by my company and the local homeowners in the area. Now, a quarter of a billion dollars that would have been invested in New Orleans is moving to another location and it kills me to have to give up on trying to help my own city 

  • B RIchards

    I owned the club before Donna’s They bought it from me in the early 90s. I was also stuck with that damn Live Music Prohibition and it surely guaranteed that no business would ever profit there. Even with the license, profits were almost nil for the owners.